We've written often on MNN about internet addiction; Starre Vartan has described the horror of being on vacation without cell service and the ability to look at her phone. I've dismissed the idea of internet addiction, but have described how wonderful it is to be able to live and work from a cabin by a lake in the woods thanks to the wonders of the modern internet (and all the while claiming I can turn it off at any time.)
Then this past Friday our lake was hit with the worst storm in memory, and now we're trapped until the road is cleared, without electricity and without internet. I'm testing the limits of internet addiction, and am finding that yes, I suffer from it and am going through serious withdrawal. Here's the story, a diary that I've been writing continuously all weekend:
Thursday, 9 a.m.: I drive into the nearest big town to get a shiny new cellular modem to get LTE high-speed internet service. I set it up and zing! Internet speed as good as I get in the city for the first time. (I remember writing posts on dialup, then we got satellite, then cellular and now this!)
Friday, 8:15 p.m.: The storm blows in; it's very dramatic, with wind, three inches of hail banging on the metal roof, leaves and branches all over the deck and a few leaks. The power goes out as it often does in storms, and we go to bed, not thinking much of it.
Saturday 8 a.m.: My phone pings with a text message: "Your car is OK. How are you?" I was shocked, what's this about?
We normally park our car on the south side of the lake and take a small aluminum boat about a half mile down and across the lake to our cottage. We are on the north side with a big rock cliff behind us, and unusually, this storm blew in from the north and we were pretty much unscathed. But the south side of the lake is a disaster with 20 trees down on the road, damage to almost every property, cottages smashed and all of us stuck unless we wanted to walk out. I really had no idea this was happening.
Cellular service is still running so I use my phone as a hotspot and do my newsletter, check on the schedule of repairs with the utility and decide that I'd better save the phone for emergencies; I disconnect.
9 a.m.: Breakfast. Spouse and MNN writer emeritus Kelly Rossiter has cooked it over our backup butane stove, and I'm having my first deprivation experience: what about my morning digital papers? Especially on Saturday when I read half a dozen from the Financial Times in London to the Washington Post to the Toronto Globe and Mail, this is my usual Saturday morning routine. I start getting seriously restless.
I get in my scull and go for a row around the lake as I do every morning for exercise, but it's slow, as I talk to the neighbors and look at the damage. Clouds are rolling in and I get nervous and cut it short.
10:30 a.m.: I decide to go into town for supplies and newspapers. That's when I learn that the road is closed and I won't be getting anything. We have most of a jug of drinking water, half a cylinder of propane and 3 bottles of emergency butane for the little stove and one flashlight, and I realize how totally unprepared we are for disaster, and start thinking about why I need an emergency kit. And most importantly for me, I'm beginning to get seriously twitchy, wanting to connect and use my phone but knowing I have to preserve power.
11 a.m.: I build a little cairn, a monument to Apple, with my MacBook Pro, iPad, iPhone 7+ all with a little watch on top, and contemplate how more than $4,000 worth of hardware can quickly transform into nothing more than a pile of useless aluminum and glass.
11:30 a.m.: I start reading a book. It's a mystery, something I haven't done in years because I always have a pile of books to read for work, but most are in my iPad. So I read "Oblivion," an Icelandic police procedural by Arnaldur Indridason (which I highly recommend.) It makes the day fly by.
Lunch is leftovers as we start eating everything out of the fridge before it all goes bad.
1:30 p.m.: Kelly and I motor around the lake and to the landing, where I see all the neighbors working together to clear the road; I've never seen so many chainsaws. I'm no use because my chainsaw is electric.
4 p.m.: I finish the book, the first fiction I've read in years. But now I'm looking at magazines, old New Yorkers and Sunsets, but cannot focus or concentrate. I really want to check Twitter and Instagram and look at our sites and all the usual stuff that I do. I resist because I need to save power.
So I pace, glass of wine in hand, then another glass of wine in hand, then dinner is a chicken that could feed six but has to be cooked, roasted on the barbecue — which fortunately had enough propane — and then very early to bed.
Sunday 6:30 a.m.: Phone is down to 13 percent and I have no idea when the power is going to be back on. So I use what's left to do my newsletter for Monday, just in case. (What, you don't read my TreeHugger newsletter? Sign up here!) But I also notice that my MacBook still has 62 percent in a much bigger battery, and wonder if I could charge my phone from it, and yes! My phone is back to 68 percent. I keep writing on the assumption that I will have the power to post this to MNN, but the computer that I need to post it is down to 35 percent after charging the phone. I may have robbed Peter to pay Paul.
10 a.m.: I go across the lake and drive past 20 trucks from Hydro One, the local electric utility. Many rural residents of Ontario are up in arms about electricity rates, which have spiked significantly over the last few years but wow, you really see where your money goes when an emergency hits. They have brought in crews from hundreds of miles away and seriously, they have more people on our road fixing the lines than people who actually live there.
I head first to the dump, where dozens of people are throwing out bags of meat and other perishables that have already gone bad. The nearest Walmart threw out about two truckloads of meat already; it, for some reason, was the only store in town without a backup generator for its coolers. Then I go to the store for fuel and water; it's sold out of butane bottles, so I suppose we will be barbecuing water. Good news: My car charged my iPhone up to 70 percent!
11 a.m.: I read a real paper newspaper that I bought in town. I usually read online up here, but today I spend an hour reading almost every word, long and short articles, good columnists and bad. I'm thinking that they may be an anachronism, but you see and read a lot more, you take in so much more than in print than you do on an iPad or phone. I may do this again on future Saturdays.
1 p.m.: I finally finish Richard Florida's "New Urban Crisis." I have been starting it and stopping it for weeks but never was able to focus on the statistics- and chart-heavy book. Now I've been forced to concentrate and I get it done. Review to follow.
2 p.m.: So bored I actually cheat and look at Twitter on my phone, using up valuable power I will probably need later. I can't go out in a canoe because the wind is too strong, cannot hike because the mosquitoes are impossible after all this rain. I'm surrounded by books but I really have trouble focusing on them. For months I've been saying that I cannot read another word about Donald Trump and now all I want to do is read news about Donald Trump. It's clear that my attention span has shrunk to nothing.
4 p.m.: I play cards with Kelly. Rummy 500. I win. I'm beginning to relax and enjoy this, but we only play one game.
6:30 p.m.: Dinner of more leftovers out of the fridge, more reading until it becomes too dim to read and then bed.
Monday 6:30 a.m.: Still no power, but the promise is that it will be back on by 4 this afternoon. I will go into town and work at a friend’s office for the day and hope for the best.
But looking back at my weekend without internet, I find that I read more books, played more games and talked to my wife more than I've done on a weekend in years.
So, what did I learn from this?
After her weekend without WiFi, Starre wrote:
The upshot is that as you wean yourself away from less-meaningful time on the Internet, you will re-engage those passions that give you deeper pleasure. So, like all detoxes, I found a significant reward... I came back to work on Monday with not only a clearer focus that lasted the whole week, but a level of calm that I had forgotten existed.
I'm back to work on Monday and am not calm and focused; I'm rattled, staring at a blank screen. I've come to realize that even when I'm supposedly having a weekend off, I am working, reading every paper and blog and website, looking for stories for the coming week. Today I have almost nothing to write about. I have learned that outside of my hour of exercise in the morning and when I have dinner, I'm looking at my computer or my iPad or my phone almost every moment. My view of the world is through the glass screen. I not only have been addicted to the Internet, but I've let it take over my entire life. Kelly has joked about this before but it's true — this is literally all I do.
But it is summer, and there is a beautiful view out my window, even at 7 a.m. on a rainy morning. I'm going to start enjoying it, and I'm going to start doing a serious weekend digital detox from now on. As soon as I finish the papers....